Sprawl-Busters reported on November 9, 2005, that Wal-Mart had spent at least $19 per vote to win 1,386 votes in the small city of Boonville, Missouri. The company used its money to buy an election to annex 28 acres into the city, less than a mile away from its existing store. That annexation vote paved the way for Wal-Mart to build a 166,000 s.f. superstore. But nine months later, no construction has started. One local resident, Eldon Bugg, sued the giant retailer, and now Wal-Mart is getting out its wallet again — this time offering to help the city pay its legal bills to defend their annexation vote. Wal-Mart went to the City Council to offer up to $50,000 towards their legal bills. The city council is expected to take up the offer in early September. In June of 2006, some of the area residents who formed the group, Not So Super For Boonville, wrote to Sprawl-Busters. “The Wal-Mart annexation is still held up in court with Eldon Bugg’s suit,” they reported, “but they certainly don’t appear to have any plans to do any building anytime soon. One of our members was elected mayor in April but we as a group haven’t been active since the November election.” Bugg’s lawsuit contends that the city did not follow the proper process during the annexation process.
When a city or town is sued by a resident over a big box permit, the smart community will turn to the developer and say, “This is your building permit or annexation that’s on the line, so you pay for the legal bills.” In this case, its Wal-Mart’s annexation that’s at risk, so why should the city pay to defend Wal-Mart’s permit? City attorneys will tell local officials to let Wal-Mart hire its own lawyer to defend its project, so the city does not have to pay the bill, or even hire a lawyer. Wal-Mart should pick up the entire bill, whatever it comes to. Local citizens groups have offered money in many communities to defend the city or town if Wal-Mart takes them to court. In the Boonville case, the city already has a Wal-Mart within a stone’s throw of the proposed store, so the community gets absolutely no added value from the superstore plan. The city council should accept Wal-Mart’s offer, and go them one better: ask them to pay for the entire case. Meanwhile, persistent Eldon Bugg is the only reason Wal-Mart is not building its superstore in Boonville.